Bible-clutching women wearing bright red and white church uniforms were forced to flee as fellow Methodist Church of Southern Africa members attacked other worshippers in a church yard at Mazizini village near Mthatha on Sunday morning.
Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Mzukisi Fatyela said “miraculously no worshippers were seriously injured during the unholy commotion”.
“Police were dispatched to the church after a panicking villager phoned that worshippers were attacking each other with dangerous weapons,” said Fatyela.
He said the fight allegedly started after one of the Wesleyan Circuit church’s two feuding groups erected a marquee at 8am in the church yard for a ceremony.
“Another group claiming to be owners of the church hall and said they had not been consulted and confronted those who erected the marquee. A fight then ensued. We believe that pangas, knobkerries and sjamboks were used and guns drawn according to the congregates. But police found no guns.” The Dispatch has seen a cellphone picture taken by a worshipper showing a man holding an object which resembles a shot gun.
Fatyela appealed to members of the public to assist police in their investigations. He said no cases had been opened and no arrests made.
Police had to dismantle the marquee from the church yard to avoid further confrontation.
It was later re-erected in the yard of a church member nearby.
When a Dispatch team arrived at the village, hundreds of church members were seen peacefully worshipping in the marquee and women were busy cooking meat and samp over a fire using three-legged pots.
Church member Sinto Magqira said he had been sjambokked.
“They (rival group members) attacked us with sjamboks. One of us was slightly stabbed with a knife.
“They beat the hell out of us.
“They drew two firearms, a pistol and shotgun. No shots were fired. They concealed the firearms before police arrived,” he alleged.
The fight is believed to be related to divisions in the church over Wesleyan Circuit superintendent, Reverend Mninindawo Magadla. One section of the church is demanding that he be transferred from the circuit in which he served two terms totalling 11 years. Another group has demanded he stay on.
On January 8 Magadla was assaulted and his bakkie damaged while going to church. The attack was allegedly carried out by church members.
It is alleged that members who erected the marquee on Sunday in Mazizini included a group of 13 who have been charged with the Reverend’s assault. The case is pending in Mthatha Regional Court.
Circuit church steward Pat Toni, who described the fight as unholy, said they were divided over Magadla.
“There are those who want him, and us who want him to leave. He has overstayed himself and is now a dictator,” said Toni.
Toni alleged his group were victims in the Sunday brawl.
“We came to peacefully worship when we were assaulted. We are going to open a case,” he said.